Death is part of life; thinking about it tends to make several people uncomfortable however, it is inevitable. Due to such discomfort, adults may avoid talking about such a topic and when it comes to explaining death to a child, they may feel even more perplexed. Adults may worry that they do not have all the answers or that they will give a wrong explanation such as; what happens to a person when they die. The following are a few ideas to keep in mind when tackling the subject.
Acknowledging it is hard – The likelihood is that if your child is experiencing a loss, so are you. It could be your own parent, a sibling or another child who has passed away and therefore you will be grieving too. You do not have to hide your own feelings from your child, it is okay for them to see you sad and cry, these are normal emotions to experience. Children have to learn that in life we do experience negative emotions and it is okay to express them, your job is to be there for them during such difficult times and support them.
Explaining death – According to your beliefs about religion and spirituality, you may have specific views about the afterlife. Avoid using words such as they are “lost” as this may create a sense of fear that if one day they get lost, they will also die. Provide a simple explanation that everything that lives, one day has to die. Usually it is older people who pass away but sometimes, people can get sick or have an accident and also die even if they are young. However, this does not happen often.
Attending the funeral – This is a common concern that parents have i.e. whether they should take their child to a funeral. There is no straight answer for this but if children show the desire to attend the funeral you should prepare them for this. Explain what happens during a funeral such as; that there will be people crying but that it is also an opportunity to say the final goodbye to the deceased. It can bring closure and leads towards the healing process.
Keeping their memory alive – Explain to your child that is it okay to talk about the loved one who has passed away and to keep their memory alive. They can keep a picture where they see it frequently or perhaps visit them at the cemetery if they are buried. Others might prefer not to stay talking about the deceased as it is too painful for them. Respect their wishes.
Talking about death is not easy but do not avoid it just because it is difficult. Children need to know that they can talk about it and ask questions. Being there for them during such difficult experiences is the best you can do. If you notice that they are struggling when a loved one passes away, you can also seek professional support.
Dr Marilyn Muscat is registered as an Educational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom where she trained. She works with children, adolescents and their families to understand more about educational, social and emotional well-being concerns that they have and to help them improve upon their difficulties. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.